Ranking college football conferences after opening weekend (yes, the SEC is still king)

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (“Interim Coaches Rule” T-shirts sold separately in College Park and Columbus):

[More Dash: Ranking conferences | Good/Bad/TBD debuts | Attendance woes | App State heartbreak]

FEAR OF AN SEC PLANET, CONT.

You hated it when the Southeastern Conference (1) won seven national titles in a row, and bragged about them collectively, as if Kentucky and Mississippi had anything to do with it. You detested it when Alabama played LSU for the national title to end the 2011 season, and even more when Alabama and Georgia played for it all last year.

For much of the nation, SEC fatigue was real. And not spectacular.

And now one week into the 2018 season, where do we find ourselves?

Back on Planet Finebaum.

You could, at the moment, make an argument for ranking SEC teams Nos. 1 through 4 right now. Just give ’em the entire playoff. The Dash isn’t ready to go that far (see below), but it was a powerful opening statement from the league.

So if you’re ranking the conferences off of Labor Day weekend, we pick back up where we left off.

The SEC logo is shown outside of the Hyatt Regency hotel for the NCAA college football Southeastern Conference’s annual media gathering, Monday, July 10, 2017, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

The SEC went 13-1, most of them blowouts, and racked up four victories over Power Five conference opponents. That equals the total for the other four P5 conferences combined (two for the Big Ten, one for the Big 12 and one for the Pac-12).

Yes, they were all on neutral fields, and three of the four locations geographically favored the SEC team. It’s part of the league’s genius scheduling scam to play fewer true road games than anyone else.

But you know what? When they lined up against comparable opponents over the weekend, they took care of business. Alabama pounded Louisville, fully showcasing what looks like the best quarterback of Nick Saban’s reign of terror. LSU suffocated Miami, looking better than the Tigers did at any point last season (though still far from perfect in the passing game). Auburn won a tense battle with a good Washington team. Mississippi boat-raced favored Texas Tech.

Only Tennessee had a Power Five pratfall, losing handily to West Virginia in Charlotte. And that was expected — turns out the fan coaching-search jihad of 2017 didn’t immediately reverse the fortunes of an increasingly irrelevant program.

For a league that hasn’t been the prettiest offensively, there were hopeful signs elsewhere as well. For the first time since Tim Tebow, Florida appears to have a passing game. South Carolina had its best game throwing the ball in five seasons. Texas A&M set a school record for total yardage. Arkansas has the No. 2-rated passer in the nation — and he was the backup in the opener. Mississippi State suspended its starting quarterback, and still put 618 yards in the books. Missouri’s Drew Lock got his dark horse Heisman Trophy campaign off to a good start.

All that, and we haven’t even mentioned Georgia. The update from between the hedges: Bulldogs still good.

So hunker down, rest of America. The capital of college football remains in Dixie once again.

CONFERENCE CALL

Here’s how the rest of the conferences rank behind the SEC after week one:

Big Ten (2). Overall non-conference record: 10-1. Record against Power Five opponents: 2-1. Best win: Maryland’s stunning victory over Texas, under interim coach Matt Canada, and after a traumatic offseason. Worst loss: Michigan’s dud at Notre Dame. The fallout from that performance included Wolverines star receiver and Big Ten Network analyst Braylon Edwards ripping a couple of Michigan players and taking a shot at Jim Harbaugh in a couple of caustic tweets that he then deleted — but not fast enough to avoid a BTN suspension. (The whole thing felt a little like the fragging Kevin Sumlin took from a trustee at Texas A&M last year after losing the season opener to UCLA.)

There also were sketchy wins by Penn State (in overtime against Appalachian State) and Michigan State (rallying late to beat Utah State). The Big Ten East did not show up with anticipated clout.

Major non-conference games this week: Duke at Northwestern; Colorado at Nebraska; Iowa State at Iowa; Virginia at Indiana; Fresno State at Minnesota; Penn State at Pittsburgh; Michigan State at Arizona State.

Big 12 (3). Overall non-conference record: 6-3. Record against Power Five opponents: 1-2. Best win: Oklahoma obliterating Florida Atlantic and serving notice that life after Baker will be just fine. Worst loss: Texas flopping against Maryland. Dishonorable mention to Kansas for its loss to FCS school Nicholls. Texas Tech was no prize against Ole Miss, either.

Major non-conference games this week: Mississippi State at Kansas State; UCLA at Oklahoma; Iowa State at Iowa.

Pac-12 (4). Overall non-conference record: 8-4. Record against Power Five opponents: 1-2. Best win: California over North Carolina, as the Golden Bears sweep the two-year, home-and-home series with the Tar Heels. Worst loss: Arizona dropping the debut of Kevin Sumlin at home against BYU, severely damaging quarterback Kahlil Tate’s Heisman Trophy campaign in the process. Dishonorable mention to UCLA for losing the Chip Kelly debut at home to Cincinnati.

Major non-conference games this week: UCLA at Oklahoma; Colorado at Nebraska; Cal at BYU; Michigan State at Arizona State.

Jake Browning (3) and the Washington Huskies had an opportunity for a marquee opening-weekend win, but Auburn scored late to ice a 21-16 win. (AP)

Atlantic Coast (5). Overall non-conference record: 9-3. Record against Power Five opponents: 0-3. And not just 0-3, but non-competitive. Louisville, North Carolina and Miami never led for a minute in their respective games. Combined halftime score of the three: 72-3. Best win: Duke thumping Army by 20. Worst loss: Miami being manhandled by LSU.

Major non-conference games this week: Duke at Northwestern; Georgia Tech at South Florida; Clemson at Texas A&M; Virginia at Indiana; Penn State at Pittsburgh.

POWER FIVE PUNCHING BAG

The worst Power Five team was, is and shall be Kansas (6), where things are now so bad that a KU law professor is calling for the school to drop football. But don’t sleep on Oregon State, which gave up 77 points to Ohio State in Jonathan Smith’s debut and has now lost 12 of its last 13. (The last Beavers win over a FBS school was November 2016.) Illinois flirted hard with joining consideration for this honor, trailing Kent State — the weakest program in the Mid-American Conference — for about half the game before pulling out a seven-point victory.

FOUR FOR THE PLAYOFF

We are starting the season with this declaration: You have to play somebody to make the bracket. If your team played an FCS opponent in the season opener (Georgia), it won’t make this mock playoff. Same thing if your team played a lower FBS opponent (Oklahoma). When your Power Five team plays another Power Five team, then we can talk. Not before.

So wipe the slate, minimize preconceptions based on preseason rankings, and use the results as they come in. If the College Football Playoff started today — it doesn’t, so chill — this would be The Dash’s bracket:

No. 1 seed Alabama (7) vs. No. 4 seed Virginia Tech (8) in the Orange Bowl. Crimson Tide perpetrated the annual neutral-site beatdown to start the season — but this time, as mentioned above, with even more offensive weaponry. The Dash suspects Nick Saban really does just poop out star players.

So you understand why ‘Bama is in the field, but what about Virginia Tech, you ask? Well, only two Power Five teams beat another Power Five team in a true road game the first week — one was Northwestern taking down Purdue last Thursday, and the other was the Hokies pulling a major surprise at Florida State. At a time of year when few teams are challenging themselves in a true road environment, that win resonates.

No. 2 seed Auburn (9) vs. No. 3 seed Notre Dame (10) in the Cotton Bowl. The Tigers hung tough against Washington in Atlanta, repeatedly coming up with big stops and then finishing the one drive they had to have in the fourth quarter to win. The Huskies are probably the best team that came out of the first weekend with a loss, which speaks to the quality of Auburn.

Notre Dame gets a narrow nod over LSU, which ran roughshod over Miami in Arlington. In Michigan, the Fighting Irish probably beat a better team than the Hurricanes — and the game was not as close as the score. Notre Dame led for 58½ of the 60 minutes, and the only time it was a one-possession game in the last three quarters was on Michigan’s final possession — which didn’t last long.

Also considered: LSU, Mississippi, Ohio State, Maryland, West Virginia, California and Northwestern.




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